Like any other language, English has its fair share of weird words! But most of us don’t know where those words come from. Words live and evolve over the years until we forget about their sources. Fortunately, the study of word origins or etymology helps unearth and preserve initial meanings and historical developments of words. For curious minds, here are the interesting origin stories of a few strange English words.
Berserk means going crazy, very excited, or out of control. As a substitute spelling of ‘berserkr,’ an Old Norse word, it’s strange that it has come to mean all these. Back in 1822, the original word ‘berserkr’ referred to a raging warrior of superhuman strength. According to researchers, ‘berserkr’ came from two Old Norse words ‘ber’ and ‘serkr,’ meaning ‘bear’ and ‘shirt,’ respectively. So the word literally translates to ‘a warrior clothed in bearskin.’ This means that no matter how angry you get and how much you’re ready to go berserk, ancient Scandinavians just won’t buy it!
As a fantastic onomatopoeia, ‘hullabaloo’ sounds exactly like the situation it’s describing- a crazy event or a commotion. Interestingly, the word passed through a variety of spellings throughout history, most commonly ‘hollo-ballo,’ with similar meanings of racket, uproar, or commotion. The Old English word ‘holla’ is the only common denominator among all the variations, which was more a shout than a word, used to attract attention. As per etymologists, humans love to rhyme and just added ‘ballo’ at the end of ‘hollo’ to refer to a noisy commotion.
‘Lollygag’ means move slowly, play idly, or dawdle. But during its first appearance in the mid-19th century, the word had a racy connotation! It was often spelled as ‘lallygag’ and originally meant snogging or flirting. If you’re wondering about its true origin, etymologists have a clue. They believe that ‘lolly’ is an onomatopoeia referring to the tongue. Just think about the word lollypop! The second syllable ‘gag’ may have indicated both retching or choking and a trick or deception. What a mind-boggling change!
It’s one of those rare words in the history of the English language that has pretty straightforward origins. Initially recorded during the 1670s, ‘whippersnapper’ derives from the phrase ‘whip-snapper,’ meaning a person who cracks whips and has nothing better to do than snap a whip. Interestingly, today, the term is used to describe a young person of a shady demeanor, someone over-confident and possibly presumptuous. Hopefully, they don’t walk around snapping a whip anymore!
There’s so much in the world that humans are unaware of. Researchers have discovered a 650-year-old map that may prove the existence of two islands that are part of Welsh mythology and were lost to the sea. This map is known as the Gough map and is kept in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.
The Gough map shows two islands in an area that’s now known as Cardigan Bay, in Wales. A recent study conducted by Simon Haslett and Davis Willis confirms the existence of Cantre’r Gwaelod or Maes Gwyddno, islands that most likely existed in the 14th century. Haslett, a professor of science and engineering at Swansea University in Wales, believes it’s due to the negligence of the people who were in charge, that we lost these two beautiful islands to erosion. But this isn’t the first time researchers have talked about the existence of those two beauties. Ptolemy, an ancient writer from Roman Egypt, talked about the coordinates of the islands in his research work.
Reasons Behind the Lost Islands
Researchers believe the main reason behind why these islands are submerged is erosion. As per the research work of Ptolemy, the Welsh shoreline has eroded significantly over the years. Haslett wrote that the coordinates given by Ptolemy in his study had us believe that River Ystwyth had covered more area than it has today. And if that study is accurate, then the river flowed across a beautiful landscape that’s present in the west as per the current coastline. The erosion has continued even today, the soft sediments of the shore are proof of it. A storm, tsunami, or any other natural disaster would only worsen the erosion problem. Researchers are continuing to work on collecting more facts about the existence of the islands and how widespread they were.
Expert Opinions on This
Like a coin has two sides, this study has divided researchers too. While there are a few who believe in the existence of those islands, some think it’s an absurd idea. Catherine Delano-Smith, a senior research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research, shared his opinion with Live Science in an email that the map signifies nothing but poor knowledge of geography and Wales. Whereas a geography professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, Patrick Nunn, thinks the map is 100% accurate.